Sometimes, seeing the world through the eyes of a child brings about the most profound insights. This is what happened to local resident Allison Bloodworth last December when her son, then age 6, started asking some important questions.
“He asked me while we were driving around town, ‘Why aren’t there any Hanukkah lights?’” said Bloodworth.
Bloodworth is a native of Gwinnett County. She moved to Milledgeville in 2006 to attend college, met the man who is now her husband, and has lived here ever since. The couple has two young sons. While she said it was very commonplace to see Hanukkah decorations growing up in the greater Atlanta area, she admits it can be difficult to be part of religious minority in a smaller community. She often has difficulties, for example, buying simple holiday supplies here such as Hanukkah candles and has to rely on family near Atlanta to get them for her.
But it was the realization of her young son that made her step back and take notice of the situation even more.
“It kind of broke my heart because you could see how he felt left out or how what we’re doing is wrong, and I did not want him to feel that way,” said Bloodworth.
Bloodworth started researching other communities around the country to see how religious diversity is addressed during the holiday season. She was inspired by her research to find a way to honor the holiday traditions of the area Jewish community in a public way. During her research, she discovered that, although a religious minority, there are more Jewish people in Baldwin and surrounding counties than some may estimate.
“I felt that this was a great opportunity to showcase the diversity in our small town,” said Bloodworth.
Shortly after her son’s remarks, Bloodworth scheduled a meeting with Milledgeville City Manager Hank Griffeth to explore her options. Griffeth was supportive of her efforts but informed her that the community Christmas tree that is erected downtown each year is provided through private funding, and that if she wanted to erect a similar Hanukkah decoration, it would need to be done through private funds as well.
Bloodworth got to work, seeking advice from Rabbi Aaron Rubinstein, the spiritual leader of Congregation Sha-arey Israel, the synagogue she attends in Macon. She also learned of a rabbi in New Jersey who sells public Hanukkah installations online and sought advice from him.
Just as Bloodworth was about to start seeking donations, the COVID-19 pandemic hit. She decided to delay her pursuit for a bit as a result, but undeterred, she got back to work a few months later. She started by contacting friends and other congregation members. What she ended up finding was an overwhelming amount of community support.
“I was able to very quickly raise up the funds to purchase the menorah,” said Bloodworth.
Bloodworth found many people were not only willing to contribute, but they also offered her names of other people to contact for her project. She described the outpouring of support as a snowball effect that gave her a lot of hope about the local community.
“It was a community effort,” said Bloodworth. “It showed me that there is support, and there is respect.”
With the funds raised, Bloodworth was able to purchase a nine-foot tall and seven-foot wide metal menorah with light bulbs in place to represent the flame on each candle. Bloodworth and some friends met earlier this week to install the menorah adjacent to the Christmas tree on the concrete plaza on West Hancock Street in the heart of downtown.
On Thursday, Dec. 10, at 6 p.m., Bloodworth and others will be meeting to recognize the first night of Hanukkah by lighting the first candle on the menorah. Community members are welcome to join the gathering.
Bloodworth hopes the installation of the menorah will not only inspire local members of the Jewish community, but also community members at large to embrace the diversity of the area’s population and learn about different beliefs and traditions associated with the holiday season.
“I think that this is just another way to showcase that Milledgeville and Baldwin County and middle Georgia are an accepting and open community of all different beliefs and traditions and cultures,” said Bloodworth.
For her personally, the outpouring of support to fund the menorah spoke to an open-mindedness she feels makes the community stronger overall.
“I think it’s a really big steppingstone for the community to recognize that everybody’s different and it’s a beautiful thing to be different,” said Bloodworth.
And as for her young son that inspired her actions in the first place, Bloodworth is eager to show him that their family is not alone in their traditions.
“My son is very excited about this,” said Bloodworth. “He cannot wait to see it.”